More Homes Scotland (Investment)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 September 2016.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01392, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on more investment for more homes Scotland. I call Kevin Stewart to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Last week, the First Minister set out our programme for government. It is a plan to build a more prosperous nation with a dynamic, sustainable and inclusive economy, with public services that put people’s needs first, and where every individual has true equality of opportunity. We can achieve that ambition only if people can access a good-quality, warm and affordable home. This Government is ambitious for housing, with a commitment of over £3 billion to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years, of which 35,000 are for social rent.

We already have a strong track record of delivery. We invested £1.7 billion in affordable housing over the lifetime of the last parliamentary session and we exceeded our target to deliver 30,000 affordable homes by over 10 per cent. That shows what can be done when we all work together, but the targets we have set for this parliamentary session are much more challenging.

Our ambition for housing can be met only if we work in partnership with councils, housing associations and developers to expand on what we do well, to push the boundaries of innovation and to make the housing system work for people. That is the more homes Scotland approach. More homes Scotland includes all the actions that we are taking to increase the supply of every type of home and to make the housing system work for people. Over the summer, I have been out and about, speaking to many different people, and I have been struck by how positive they are about that. In August, I visited Fernan Gardens, which was developed by Shettleston Housing Association in Glasgow. With solar panels on the roof, an efficient heat recovery system, triple glazing, a landscaped central courtyard and integrated wi-fi, those flats provide modern, attractive, safe and secure housing for older people. That just shows what can be done.

Expanding what we do well means more investment for more housing. To achieve our ambitions, we will invest more than £572?million in affordable homes this financial year. Councils have been allocated over £100?million more than last year and the basic subsidy rate for councils was increased by 24 per cent in January. In statistics published today, I was pleased to see that we have a 26 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of affordable homes approved in the period to the end of June. That is a healthy start.

We are also supporting home ownership through our shared equity schemes. This year, £160?million is available to support up to 5,000 households to buy their own home, adding to the 22,000 who have already benefited through those schemes.

Government investment in housing is also good for the wider economy. It will support around 14,000 jobs in the construction and related industries in Scotland and will generate £1.8 billion of economic activity each year. That is a substantial contribution to boosting our economy, creating jobs and investing in our future, but it cannot be done with Scottish Government investment alone. Securing wider investment is just one reason why we keep innovating. We are the only Government in the United Kingdom to invest in charitable bonds and we have invested over £40 million so far.

We are also pushing forward with innovation in mid-market rent. The Local Affordable Rented Housing Trust will deliver up to 1,000 affordable homes across Scotland over five years, supported by a £55 million loan from the Scottish Government.

Our £25 million rural housing fund is increasing the supply of affordable rural housing, promoting self and custom build, and supporting smaller building firms.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

Liberal Democrats welcome the introduction of the rural housing fund. Will the minister speak to and act on Lib Dem calls for a commensurate island housing fund and meet us to discuss the details of how to meet the demonstrable and acute needs in our island communities?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Mr Cole-Hamilton is right that it is also important to focus on the housing needs of our island communities. The Government will therefore also establish an islands housing fund with up to £5?million over the next three years. That accords with our positive and comprehensive vision for the islands, as outlined in our programme for government.

Our national housing trust initiative uses guarantees to unlock the development of affordable rented homes. This morning, I was at Shrubhill in Edinburgh for the site start of the seventh NHT development in the city. It takes the totals to 886 affordable homes in the city and more than 2,000 across Scotland.

However, our housing sector can deliver only if we make the housing system work better—not least our infrastructure, land, planning and tax systems. We have made supplying more homes a national strategic infrastructure priority. We are working with local authorities, and through our flexible five-year housing infrastructure fund we will unlock strategically important sites.

The planning system has a critical role to play. Yesterday, I attended a planning workshop session with folks from across Scotland who have met yesterday and today to discuss planning in the run-up to our white paper. We will bring forward our planning bill early in the current session of Parliament, and we are pressing ahead—with local authorities—to deliver simplified planning zones in order to help to attract investment and promote housing delivery.

Earlier this year, we published the place standard to help people to work together to design and deliver successful places. Last week, I met representatives from Sanctuary Group, Robertson and Torry community council at Craiginches in Aberdeen, in Maureen Watt’s constituency. They had broken ground on a development of 124 new affordable homes for key workers in Aberdeen on land that was previously owned by the Government. That is an excellent example of making good use of public land and of engaging local people to provide much-needed affordable housing and create a sense of place.

We will make more land available for housing by modernising compulsory purchase orders and empowering communities through implementation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. In our approach to land and buildings transaction tax, we have prioritised support for first-time buyers and those who are buying homes at the lower end of the market. In the first year of the tax, more than 41,600 buyers paid less tax than they would have paid under United Kingdom stamp duty. Finally, we have ended right to buy to safeguard up to 15,500 existing homes for future generations.

We can succeed only if we all work together. Our integrated and collaborative approach to developing the joint housing delivery plan, which was published last year, demonstrates how highly we value our partners and communities. I look forward to working with the Parliament, the joint housing policy and delivery group and the sector to transform our ambition into reality.

I repeat to the Parliament something that I have said before: we have a shared interest in ensuring that we provide the people of Scotland with the warm, affordable homes that we all believe they should have. I am willing to talk to everyone in this place about how we go about the delivery of that house building programme.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the target of 50,000 affordable homes, 35,000 of which will be for social rent, is ambitious. As a Government, we will do everything possible to rise to the challenge and fulfil that ambition.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Will you move the motion, please, minister?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that providing the right houses in the right places is essential to ensuring that everyone has access to a warm and affordable home; welcomes the shared objective across local authorities and housing associations to deliver 35,000 social rented homes, as part of the wider Scottish Government commitment from them and other partners to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes, backed by expenditure of over £3 billion over the course of the current parliamentary session; welcomes the increased subsidy rates for housing associations, the promise of five-year resource planning assumptions for local authority areas, and agrees that a whole system approach to housing is essential; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to action on infrastructure, land and planning in support of increased housing supply across all tenures as part of the More Homes Scotland approach, including the new housing infrastructure fund to unlock key development sites, the Scottish Government’s positive response to the planning review and commitment to land reform, and welcomes the continued commitment to delivering housing as a key way of promoting inclusive growth, supporting each year approximately 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs and generating £1.8 billion in activity.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that you were so pleased about giving me some time in hand that you forgot to move the motion.

I call Alex Johnstone to speak to and move amendment S5M-01392.3.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. So that I do not fall foul of your ire at the end of my speech, may I begin by moving the amendment in my name?

We have finally got round to a debate in this Parliament in which we are actually talking about what is important to people. It may surprise many people that much of what is contained in the commitments that the minister made in his opening speech will find favour with the Conservatives.

Any cursory look at the commitments that were made on housing in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in May will show that we have a great deal in common, but we must be careful not to exaggerate our claims and achievements. Again, however, we find ourselves today in a position in which it is being claimed that the commitment in the previous session of Parliament to build 30,000 affordable homes was achieved. Need I point out again that the manifesto commitment for the previous election was for 30,000 homes for social rent, and that that was transmogrified into a commitment for 30,000 affordable homes, 20,000 of which would be for social rent? There therefore remains the question whether that commitment was actually achieved.

The minister said that we can succeed only if we are all working together. I agree with that point, which is why I want to emphasise what we have in common. We committed in our manifesto to house building becoming a national strategic infrastructure priority, so I welcome the fact that the Government has made that move. We gave a commitment to a total build of 100,000 new homes over the course of this session of Parliament, 50,000 of which would be in the affordable housing sector. Again, that is a target that we have in common with the Government. We also wish to oversee investment in clean, secure and affordable energy because the ability to heat homes is vital and we want to ensure that nobody will live in a hard-to-heat home in the future.

We welcome the Scottish Government’s promise on house building, but we believe that it does not go far enough in some areas and that there is room for improvement. For example, not nearly enough is being done to attract additional investment from private or institutional sources, which might see the sector as now being more attractive in the current economic environment. There is also the example of the bungled attempts to bring investment through the discredited memorandum of understanding with China.

The Scottish National Party Government’s motion mentions “increased subsidy rates”, but it is a bit rich for the nationalist Government to act like the champion of housing association subsidies when, in 2011, the Scottish Government significantly cut the capital subsidy per home from an average of £70,000 to £40,000, directly causing the collapse in the number of completions in 2012-13.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No, thank you.

That Government action was like setting fire to someone’s home and then expecting a medal for phoning the fire brigade. More seriously, it now points to the minister’s lazy analysis, which ran deep through his opening speech. If the minister wants to make comparisons, I will pick one for him: the number of completions of affordable houses in 2015 was 4,037.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No, thank you.

The total completions in 1983, at the height of the Conservative Government, was 4,763, which is 726 more than was achieved last year. It is worth noting that we can all draw comparisons and conclusions.

The Scottish Government’s obsession with the figures for council houses alone rather than those for social rented housing further betrays the Government’s contempt for the housing associations and what they have achieved.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Housing associations have welcomed the Government’s commitment and are working in partnership with us to deliver the 50,000 affordable homes.

Mr Johnstone has talked about the Government’s record on house building, but does he recognise that we are building more homes in Scotland per head of population than are being built in England and Wales, where his party is in Government?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I will acknowledge that the Scottish National Party forms the Government of Scotland and will be accountable for its actions in Scotland. If the

Scottish National Party

Government chooses to fall back on the slim defence of comparison with other parts of the United Kingdom, it is in breach of its own rules, as far as comparison is concerned. Let us talk about Scotland and what we can achieve in Scotland, rather than doing Scotland down by comparison with other areas of the United Kingdom.

The SNP has a very poor record on help for first-time buyers. On 27 September 2013, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities launched the three-year help to buy (Scotland) scheme, which allocated £130 million for the 2015-16 financial year. We see that budget being significantly reduced this year.

The number of loans that are being given by institutions to first-time buyers remains below the level in quarter 2 in 2007, which was when the SNP came to power. That suggests a failure by the SNP to provide adequate support for helping people on to the property ladder.

The SNP has committed to cutting fuel poverty, but the budget for fuel poverty and energy efficiency has also had reductions. The Conservative manifesto committed to warmer homes. Scotland is a cold place most of the time, and research shows that living in a cold and damp home is much more likely to cause health problems. Increasing energy efficiency and heating homes should be top priorities. Again, the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the May election offered commitments in those areas.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I will carry on at the moment, thank you. The minister had a speech of his own.

We want ambitious targets to be set for energy efficiency, and we want all properties to achieve an energy performance certificate C rating or above by the end of the decade. We are happy to work with the Government in order to achieve that.

We want more investment in energy efficiency, and we do not believe that current policies go as far as they could. The Scottish Conservatives will support energy efficiency budget increases in the budget process on which we are about to embark.

We also believe that energy efficiency improvements should be reflected in the tax system. Specifically, energy efficiency improvements could be incentivised through land and buildings transaction tax discounts or the business rates system. The SNP should be held to account for allowing a drastic fall in that.

There are other things that I could mention. The failure to provide an adequate number of care home places again demonstrates a lack of joined-up thinking and a failure to comprehend the housing landscape. Also, the planning system review is welcome, but that system has been an adversarial block to development for too long.

As I said at the outset, there is a great deal that we could have in common on the matter. Unfortunately, however, the Government will persist in putting things in its motions that we cannot support. We will vote against the motion for the simple reason that it could not avoid mentioning land reform once again.

I move amendment S5M-01392.3, to leave out from “, the Scottish Government’s positive response” to end and insert

“; welcomes the continued commitment to delivering housing as a key way of promoting inclusive growth, supporting each year approximately 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs and generating £1.8 billion in activity; calls on the Scottish Government to make energy efficiency and heating homes a top priority by introducing a target for all properties to achieve an EPC C rating or above by the end of the decade; further urges the Scottish Government to introduce a target of a 10% year-on-year increase in new house completions across all sectors; calls for the recognition of energy improvement initiatives in the tax system; welcomes the fact that, after nine years in power, the Scottish Government has finally realised that the planning system is in desperate need of review; acknowledges the increased subsidy rates for housing associations, but highlights that the previous SNP administration slashed average grants to housing associations from £70,000 to £40,000.”

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am the Labour spokesperson with the housing and social justice brief. We have that brief because having a warm, secure and affordable home is at the heart of our social justice policy.

Housing costs push many people in Scotland into poverty—that is one of the conclusions of Naomi Eisenstadt’s report entitled “Shifting the Curve—A Report to the First Minister”. It says that some

“290,000 people ... were in in-work poverty before housing costs” were included, and that when housing costs were included, the figure rose to 420,000 people. I think that we agree at least that h ousing is a pressing issue for Parliament. I assure the minister that there is indeed a shared interest in that.

Scottish Labour supports a national house-building plan—we think that that is a more definitive approach to reaching the 50,000 new-build target—to ensure the co-ordination of new-build homes, and we support the Government’s desire to tackle the housing crisis in session 5 of the Scottish Parliament. However,

Scottish Labour also supports Shelter and other housing experts that believe that the figure of 50,000 should not be the limit of our ambition, and that we need to build 60,000 homes to stand still. Nonetheless, we support the general ethos of the Government’s position, and we do not intend to get into a debate in Parliament about the numbers; rather, we will get into a debate with the Government about how the target can be achieved.

We all agree that there is an acute need for new housing on a large scale. There has been a 13 per cent increase in the number of children who are staying in council hostels and bed and breakfasts, and a dramatic increase in the number of one-person households since 2008. There is also a reported conservative estimate that 150,000 households are on council waiting lists. According to Shelter Scotland, 30,000 people are classed as homeless. We estimate that at least 45,000 people might have been excluded from that list as stock-transfer authorities appear not to be counted. I appreciate that it is hard to get accurate data on waiting times and lists because of double counting, but I ask the minister to look into it. The whole of Glasgow is not in the picture because Glasgow is a stock-transfer authority. For example, the Glasgow Housing Association waiting list alone is 24,000, so I call on the minister to look at the figure for waiting lists. We think that it is a conservative estimate but, nonetheless, it illustrates the need for new-build housing.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I thank Ms McNeill for allowing a debate to take place here today. It seems as if others are often unwilling to take interventions.

I am certainly willing to explore the figures for waiting lists. I will ask civil servants to look at the situation closely and will report back to Parliament.

On the national delivery strategy, we have the more homes Scotland board and the joint delivery group, which brings together 26 organisations. We have the determination and—I am glad to hear—Labour has the determination to help us in the task of delivering those homes.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I will say more in due course about why we want to put the emphasis on a national plan.

There has been a decline in the number of first-time buyers because of the economic crash and the fact that average deposits are at a staggering £20,000 for a new house. That is a factor that cannot be underestimated as one that slows down the housing market and the availability of mortgage loans. I do not believe that all that is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Although the situation is improving, it is tough to get a mortgage these days and such factors impinge on the housing market.

Homes for Scotland, which favours the building of 100,000 homes during the fifth session of Parliament, calls for a plan to include all tenures, which recognises that many people want to own their own homes. We fully support the aim that at least 35,000 of those homes should be socially rented accommodation.

We know that there are many obstacles to building, which is why Labour wants to place the emphasis on the need to take a national approach. We need more parliamentary time to consider issues of planning and infrastructure, but I will mention one today. The level of efficiency in the planning system does not seem to be fit for Government policy. As we saw in 2015-16, it still took 40 weeks from starting an application to finishing it. That is an improvement from the previous 64 weeks timescale, but the situation has to be examined if we are serious about reaching the 50,000 homes target.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

The independent panel that was looking into planning published its report at the beginning of my tenure as minister. The Government responded to that quickly with some initial moves. We are also moving quickly towards the planning white paper. I hope that the whole Parliament will engage with that. I share some of Ms McNeill’s frustrations and I want to see a much more simplified planning system that will include simplified planning zones for housing.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I look forward to a more detailed debate on the planning system.

Another weakness in the planning system is that the level of house building has fallen by 40 per cent since 2007, despite the increase in the number of households. We have seen figures today that illustrate that the Government’s previous targets have not been reached. I mention that to illustrate the need for a more comprehensive national plan.

Meeting the target to deliver 50,000 homes during this parliamentary session would be quite an achievement, so we have to make sure that all the steps are in place to achieve that. We agree that some consideration of the types of homes that are needed has to be part of that essential plan.

We also need to consider the design of homes. As many others have, I have visited the Building Research Establishment innovation park at Ravenscraig, which shows that homes for the future can be built with zero waste and can be designed for people with dementia, for example, with special measures.

I agree with aspects of the Tory amendment, in that when we are designing and building new homes, we need to think about energy efficiency. The targets on fuel poverty have not been met, so they must be a major feature in the building of new homes.

The affordable homes policy is a policy that can, I believe, mark the success of this Parliament. I do not underestimate the task but I also do not overestimate the hope that the policy will give many people who need a warm affordable home, if the target can be achieved in this fifth session of the Scottish Parliament.

I move amendment S5M-01392.4, to leave out from second “welcomes” to “essential;” and insert,

“recognises the advice of housing experts including Shelter Scotland that building 60,000 affordable homes over the next five years would further tackle Scotland’s housing crisis; acknowledges the increased subsidy rates for housing associations and the promise of five-year resource planning assumptions for local authority areas and agrees that the National House Build Plan is essential to Scotland’s approach to investing in housing; agrees that investment in new, affordable, warm housing is vital in tackling poverty, inequality and Scotland's fuel poverty levels.”

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I welcome the minister’s opening remarks and I am pleased to speak in this debate in support of the Scottish Government’s motion.

It is clear that the Government is committed to treating Scotland’s housing shortage with the seriousness that it deserves and I welcome the commitment from the Government and other partners to deliver a minimum of 50,000 affordable homes over the course of this parliamentary session—a commitment that will represent more than £3 billion-worth of investment.

Official statistics published today show that the number of affordable homes that have been approved has increased by 26 per cent over the past year. That news should be welcomed across the chamber as a good sign of early progress in meeting our ambitious target. The Scottish Government is due credit for its actions over recent years.

In the previous parliamentary session, a target of 30,000 affordable homes was exceeded against the backdrop of continued Westminster cuts to our capital budget. The help to buy (Scotland) shared equity scheme, which has been described by Homes for Scotland as an “unqualified success”, boosted the supply of private homes, helping the delivery of new affordable housing. Furthermore, the abolition of the right-to-buy scheme in Scotland after 30 years was overwhelmingly welcomed by housing bodies.

Recently, the housing infrastructure fund, which invites local authorities to identify housing sites that can be unlocked as a matter of priority, was established, and I was particularly pleased to see the launch of a dedicated rural housing fund in April. The fund, which totals £25 million, is available to community organisations, development trusts, private landowners and private developers and is further evidence that the Scottish Government is dedicated to addressing the unique issues that are associated with the provision of housing in rural Scotland.

The Scottish Government is clearly committed to working with local authorities and other partners to deliver affordable housing. However, it is undeniable that the housing crisis has been growing across the whole of the UK for over a decade. I therefore believe that there is a pressing need to identify the root cause of the problem.

Reading through the policy literature in preparation for the debate, it struck me that one issue was raised consistently by various stakeholders—the planning system, which the minister has already mentioned in relation to the upcoming white paper on planning. As far back as 2004, the Barker review of housing supply concluded that a more effective planning system was vital to increased housing provision, particularly in terms of land allocation. That conclusion was supported by the Scottish Government’s 2007 report, “Firm Foundations—the Future of Housing in Scotland”.

It is for that reason that I welcome the Scottish Government’s root-and-branch review of the planning system and the understanding—as outlined in the more homes Scotland approach—that specific action on land and planning is required to increase housing supply across all tenures. We have already seen progress on that front. The latest Scottish Government statistics show an improvement in the time that was taken to decide major housing developments in 2015-16.

In Scotland, we are already building more homes than anywhere else in the UK. However, to reach our bold target of 50,000 new homes, we cannot rely solely on the public sector. As the minister’s motion states,

“a whole system approach to housing is essential”.

Homes for Scotland rightly highlighted in its recent manifesto that the private sector has a crucial role in the delivery of affordable housing. The Scottish Government’s actions to date have undoubtedly helped to stimulate growth in the private housing market, but a more flexible approach by local authorities is also needed.

Too often, planning burdens, bureaucracy and unpredictability impact on small businesses disproportionately. Local small and medium-sized businesses are perhaps best placed to understand the needs and opportunities of the communities that they work in. A prime example of that in my area is S & A Housing Support Services, which I recently visited and which has been working with Dumfries and Galloway Council’s homeless service for almost 25 years to provide fully furnished, supported and secure emergency accommodation. The business provides 24-hour support and enables each homeless person to address the issues that contributed to their circumstances.

It is not just the number of homes that we build that is important, but the kind of homes. To again paraphrase Homes for Scotland, we need to build the range of homes that meet the diverse needs and life journeys of all of those living in Scotland. I agree with Shelter Scotland, which has emphasised that

“It is essential that we don’t hit the housing target but miss the point” by

“building ill-designed, isolated new communities”.

It is unacceptable that at least one in five disabled people or people living with long-term health problems who require an adapted house lives somewhere that is not at all or not very suitable to their needs. We need to build housing that can be adapted as the needs of the occupant change—a hoose for life. They should be mobility impairment friendly, learning disability friendly and dementia friendly. The Stranraer business that I mentioned has expanded its current practice with an additional proposed model of supporting people with difficult healthcare needs.

I agree with Shelter Scotland that creating a supply of affordable and adaptable housing must continue to be a top priority for the Scottish Government and local authorities throughout this session of Parliament. I support the motion.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Scotland is in the grip of a housing crisis. With the Scottish National Party now into its third term in government, a briefing that was issued by Shelter today spelled out the stark facts. There are 150,000 households on council waiting lists, over 10,000 households are stuck in temporary accommodation and last year nearly 30,000 people were assessed as homeless, which is one household every 20 minutes. The first thing that the minister should have done today is apologise.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative


Targets are great, and 50,000 affordable homes in five years sounds a lot. It is, but of course targets can be missed. An example is the SNP’s manifesto commitment in May 2011 to build more than 6,000 new social rented houses a year, which, as Alex Johnstone said, was missed. The SNP’s shaky record does not fill me with confidence.

Like the minister, over the summer, I was lucky enough to visit a number of housing associations in my patch. I heard about the great work that they are doing in areas such as Wishaw, Motherwell and East Kilbride. I also visited new council housing in East Kilbride. It is not the only place where new council housing is springing up. North Lanarkshire Council is to be commended for its ambitious programme to build 800 council houses in the next five years. As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I have also seen the work that is being done in Glasgow by Cube Housing Association, which is part of the Wheatley Group. We chatted to some very satisfied tenants there, and my feeling is that there is a vibrancy across the sector. Local housing associations are adapting and in general are offering a very good service to their customers, as Cube refreshingly calls them.

There is great work going on and I want to praise some of it. Lanarkshire Housing Association, which is based in Motherwell, has focused on improving engagement with tenants using text messaging and an improved website alongside a tenant focus group. East Kilbride and District Housing Association has paid student bursaries to five tenants in the past year, has a partnership with a credit union and provides free school uniforms to poorer tenants.

The local housing associations that I visited are small but they are up to the Government’s challenge. Subsidies will be vital, of course. Although they are being increased, we should remember that—as Alex Johnstone said—the SNP cut them in the first place.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Not yet, because I am about to strike a positive note with Mr Stewart.

If he really wants to hit that 50,000 target, he must ensure that some of the money filters down to the smaller housing associations. If he is serious about hitting the target, he must involve them. As Andy Young, the director of East Kilbride and District Housing Association, told me yesterday, they are ready to help and are up for it.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I visited a number of smaller housing association developments over the summer, including Cunninghame Housing Association in Ardrossan and Shettleston Housing Association. I do not know whether it is because Mr Simpson is new to the Parliament, but the Conservative members seem to forget that the Conservatives cut our capital budgets by 26 per cent in the previous session of the Parliament. We could have done much more had that money not been slashed by a Conservative Government.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I could have done without the condescending tone and being described as a newbie and, therefore, not knowing very much. I had come up with a positive idea, which I hope Mr Stewart is ready to take on board.

We need more homes across the board, including privately owned homes. Reforms to the planning system can help with that but we will not see legislation until next year. I wonder whether Mr Stewart could find a way to speed up the implementation of measures such as simplified planning zones, on which he would find support across the chamber. That could unlock and hasten development.

We need action. Overall, total new builds still remain almost 40 per cent down on 2007 levels. We also have a long way to go to ensure that all our homes are warm. That should be a priority. Too many people live in homes that are not up to scratch, which has huge implications for health and educational attainment. Living in cold damp homes results in a much higher likelihood of mental health problems, a higher incidence of respiratory disease and other physical issues. That is simply unacceptable.

We need to do more. As Alex Johnstone said, there are many areas on which we can unite. I hope that I have been reasonably positive to Mr Stewart and that he will take on board some of my suggestions.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I welcome the fact that we are having a debate on housing. The subject is a huge priority for my constituents and I have a strong personal interest in it, as I have worked for housing associations in the past.

There has been a lot of good news on housing delivery in recent years. The target of delivering 30,000 new affordable homes from 2011 to 2016 was achieved. In fact, we got 33,490 new homes. In my area, the Commonwealth games village remains a big success story of recent years, with 700 new homes, which are a mixture of social rented and owner-occupied properties.

There continue to be challenges in the housing sector. Otherwise, why would there be a commitment to provide 50,000 more affordable homes in the next five years? However, I do not believe that there is a crisis in the way that there was after world war two or in the way that there is in a country that has an earthquake or a war. Opposition politicians need to be careful how they use words. If they use words such as “crisis” too often, we risk those words losing their effect and they risk losing personal credibility.

A debate title such as “More Investment for More Homes Scotland” clearly indicates that we will focus on additional housing stock. That is good. As Kevin Stewart mentioned, he has been in my constituency twice recently to open developments for Shettleston Housing Association and West of Scotland Housing Association. New developments for owner-occupiers in my area continue to be made in Broomhouse, Baillieston, Belvidere and Parkhead. Link Housing Association plans mid-market rented accommodation at Dalmarnock.

I would like to thank Clyde Gateway and the Scottish Government for funding for cleaning up the old power station site so that housing could be built on it.

I want to touch on one or two other issues. A key phrase in the motion is

“the right houses in the right places”.

That surely has to include the maintenance of existing stock. A lot of work has been done on improving energy efficiency and the linked issue of ending fuel poverty. That is great, but there is a wider issue in that many owners in tenemental stock are not investing what they need to in their properties. For example, in the estate where I live, where there are 270 post-war flats, there are factors in place but residents pay only the absolute minimum, so only absolutely essential repairs take place. I came across another example this week, because one of my staff lives in a tenement with no factor. Major repairs need to be done and some owners have led on that. Glasgow City Council is giving a 50 per cent grant, which is great, and is insisting on the building having factors in future, which is also welcome. However, two residents are resisting repair work and refusing access to their premises. It seems to me that there is something wrong when it remains so difficult to get repairs and maintenance done on people’s homes.

In both those examples, I have mentioned factors or a lack of them. Whether there is a factor in place usually depends on the title deeds, and also on whether residents have appointed a factor. Therefore, I ask the Government whether we should consider making it compulsory to have a factor in situations where there is common property. If the Government agrees with that proposition, does it think that the factor needs to have powers to do proactive maintenance? I accept that some people have had bad experiences with factors, but I think that we must consider this issue if we are serious about maintaining existing homes.

Returning to the provision of new housing, I welcome the proposals for a mix of housing, whether it is owner-occupied housing, social rented housing, private rented housing or whatever. I have constituents for whom the help-to-buy scheme has been incredibly welcome because it has made the difference between their not being able to buy a house and being able to do so.

Having worked for a few housing associations, I think that the work that they do is tremendous, especially because they can look at the whole community rather than just individual buildings. I have some agreement with what Graham Simpson said, and I think in particular that smaller associations can be particularly good at knowing their tenants and their communities really well.

An example of that is greater Easterhouse, which straddles the Glasgow Provan constituency and my Glasgow Shettleston constituency. It has eight associations that are independent but work together. Most residents chose to transfer to the community associations rather than stay with Glasgow Housing Association when the council stock was transferred. However, now, Glasgow City Council allocates grant—and sometimes the land—for new housing developments, and there is a feeling that there seems to be an unhealthily close relation between the council and the Wheatley Group, which consists mainly of the GHA. There is a strategic agreement between the council and Wheatley Group. In itself, that can be a good thing, but the fear is that such an arrangement could squeeze out smaller housing associations, which probably know their communities better. I think that that was the point that Graham Simpson was making.

Housing continues to be the subject that most constituents raise with me, and I have to say that the right to buy stripped our area of some of its best housing in the social rented sector. Graham Simpson wanted an apology, but I would like to hear an apology from the Tories for implementing the right to buy and for decimating the housing stock.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

In particular, the number of properties at ground-floor level has reduced in the social rented sector. Because we have an ageing population, that has resulted in demand seriously outstripping supply. I am therefore delighted that the right-to-buy scheme has been stopped.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to housing. Of course, we will not solve all the challenges overnight but, at a time of financial pressure, a commitment to 50,000 new affordable homes is absolutely tremendous, and I hope that all parties can at least agree to welcome that.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. One of the principal reasons for the creation of this Parliament was the need to drive housing policy up the political agenda. A devolved Scottish Parliament with responsibility for primary housing legislation and housing investment and planning was a critical part of the case for constitutional reform in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was also part of the argument going back to the days of John Wheatley and the Rev James Barr.

The Rev James Barr’s name reminds me that next year is the centenary of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland’s report, “Housing of the Industrial Population of Scotland, Rural and Urban”. The commission, chaired by Sir Henry Ballantyne, included among its membership the Rev James Barr, who was later to become a Labour MP. It was set up following representations from the county medical officers and the Scottish Miners Federation about the terrible housing conditions in Scotland’s coalfields. The commission concluded:

“Problems such as child-welfare, care of mothers, better education, temperance, and a living wage are all relevant to the housing problem”.

Those are the problems—well, perhaps not temperance—that we will be grappling with this afternoon and when we debate housing in the weeks and months ahead. The recommendation of the royal commission was a massive programme of council house building, but even a moderate programme of council house building would be welcome.

We know that 10,500 households are homeless and in temporary accommodation in Scotland. Over a quarter of those households contain children. I ask the Scottish Government what chance we have got of closing the educational attainment gap when too many of our children live in substandard and overcrowded accommodation. That is why, this month, Shelter has called for a new homelessness strategy. It is looking for political leadership from Parliament to galvanise action with a common vision and a common goal. Given the force of the argument put forward by the organisation that is best placed to comment on the matter, I assume that the Government will recognise the need for such a strategy and will act immediately to establish a group to take that forward.

My second point is that we do not need just a technological or one-off fix; we need a long-term plan for public housing in Scotland that produces a mosaic of homes that work rather than a monolithic, top-down housing system that does not. It means giving tenants and workers alike a greater say in how public housing is provided so that tenants are able to do much more than merely complain. If we want the confidence of the people, we must have confidence in the people. It means creating towns for people, with homes—and people—back in our town centres. It does not mean concreting over the green belt. It means looking at repair and improvement. It means redoubling our efforts to return empty homes to use and looking at new instruments, such as pension fund investments, to supplement public support.

We are debating housing here today, but we need decisions on housing to be taken locally. We must move away from local administration back to local government, in which elected councillors devise local solutions to local problems. That is why I was delighted that, last month, North Lanarkshire Council announced its plan to build an extra 1,000 new homes. It is why I am calling today for the letter issued by the Scottish Government to local councils, in which they were warned that every housing development above 100 houses would be automatically called in, to be rescinded.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I abolished that when I came into office. That has already happened.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I apologise to the minister for that. I am delighted that he has corrected me.

My final point is that, over the time that the current housing crisis has deepened, total employment in construction in Scotland has fallen. It has fallen by 16,000 in the past five years, with half of that drop—8,000 jobs—going out of the industry in the past 12 months. A person does not need to have studied John Maynard Keynes’s “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” from cover to cover to work out that there is an obvious place for central Government and local government intervention here. If the housing targets were exceeded, as the minister has claimed again this afternoon, on that evidence alone it is clear that the housing targets were set too low.

We need more ambition in our plans for Scotland’s housing. We need the renewed political will to make tackling homelessness a priority. We need a boost in construction jobs, socially useful jobs, good jobs, local jobs and trade union jobs, as part of an anti-austerity agenda. We also need a more decentralised, localised, democratic approach. If we secure that, we will have begun to serve the purpose for which the Parliament was created and the purpose for which we were elected.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

It is 17 years since a house was last built in Staffin, on Skye, and it is 10 years since the school roll boasted 50 children—it is now down to 14. One local business can cite five instances when it failed to recruit or retain staff because of a lack of housing, and the population fell by 5 per cent in four years, from just over 600 residents in 2009 to over 550 in 2013. Before anyone tells me that that is the trend in rural Skye, I point out that the population of Portree, which is a mere 30 minutes south of Staffin, has risen by 11 per cent in a decade. It is no coincidence that the population has risen as the number of houses has gone up. Portree has been the beneficiary of significant housing development in the past few years under the previous ambitious SNP Government.

The opportunities that the Government’s targets will provide to my constituents cannot be overestimated. On my travels and in my conversations, housing is repeatedly raised as one of the greatest needs for rural Scotland. High prices, low availability and poor stock are the three key factors that push my constituents from the rural areas of Scotland to its urban centres.

I welcome every new house that is built in rural Scotland, because it means another family whose children go to the local school, another retired couple who can remain part of the community or another individual who is driving forward the Highland economy. Yes, I welcome the Government’s commitment to build 50,000 new homes, but almost more than that I welcome the £25 million rural housing fund that takes into account the unique issues that rural homes face.

Let me sketch out four unique issues in rural Scotland that a specifically rural housing policy should address. First, there is a much higher proportion of second homes in rural areas—7 per cent as opposed to 1 per cent in the rest of Scotland. Naturally, that makes it harder for residents to access housing. However, it is not a simple picture, especially after a summer in which the Highlands have hosted unprecedented numbers of tourists who have required accommodation. In fact, across Skye and Badenoch there is not enough tourist accommodation, which is why organisations such as Great North Lodges, which is based in Aviemore, are vital to our Highland economy. Great North Lodges manages 32 self-catering lodges, encourages local spend and provides employment to a vast network of cleaning and maintenance staff and full-time staff in an area that needs jobs. Such organisations are to be commended for their work. In a constituency such as mine there are not always easy answers, so a nuanced and considered approach is needed and more houses need to be built.

Secondly, 2012 figures show that average prices in accessible rural areas are a staggering £49,000 higher than they are in the rest of Scotland. Thirdly, more than three quarters of housing in remote rural Scotland is owner occupied compared with just more than half of housing in the rest of Scotland. Fourthly, as members have already touched on, housing in remote rural Scotland is far less energy efficient than housing in the rest of Scotland, with 15 per cent of housing stock in rural areas being in the lower bands compared with only 2 per cent of housing in the rest of Scotland. That is a key reason why 22 per cent of those who live in remote rural areas such as my constituency are in extreme fuel poverty compared with 9 per cent of people in the rest of Scotland. However, by 2021 the Government will have spent £1 billion to tackle fuel poverty. The problem is not just that housing is less energy efficient; 47 per cent of remote rural stock is deemed to be in a state of urgent disrepair compared with 36 per cent of stock in the rest of Scotland. The Government’s ambition in the previous parliamentary session and this session is vital.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I thank Ms Forbes for a well-thought-out speech. The Government is being innovative. Does she welcome the fact that Lochaber Housing Association is to get moneys through a charitable bond to build 50 new houses in Fort William?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I cannot stress enough how delighted I was to see that announcement, because housing stock for my constituents is about not just having a roof over their heads but having safety, security, health, children in schools, jobs and growing businesses. That is part of a much bigger impact on rural Scotland, so I welcome the announcement.

I have identified some of the pressing reasons why I welcome the Government’s priority and why I welcome a specifically rural fund to address the issues that my constituents face. I thank the Government very much.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

Since 2007, the SNP has overseen a 40 per cent drop in house building, which means that there are fewer homes for families across our country. That drop means that we have ended up in a situation in which, according to the Scotland Institute, 74,000 households are suffering from overcrowding.

During the recent recess, I visited the Keepmoat site on Garvald Street in Greenock and met Link housing in Luss to see social housing developments. I was impressed by those developments, which address community needs.

The SNP’s failure on house building has meant that, according to the charity Shelter, the number of people who need to live in temporary accommodation is not coming down. More than 5,000 children in Scotland now live in temporary accommodation. When we consider that more than 25 per cent of the people who are in temporary accommodation in Scotland have to use bed and breakfasts and hostels, we can see why the problem is so big.

The only way to solve the problems is to start building more homes. That is why the Scottish Conservatives are committed to supporting the building of 100,000 new homes over the lifetime of the parliamentary session, at least half of which should be affordable housing.

Although we need more homes, the rate of house building in the private sector has gone down by 44 per cent over the past nine years. Action must be taken to remedy that. I recommend that the Scottish Government take some suggestions from the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto to encourage the house-building private sector. The Government should encourage local authorities to compile publicly available brownfield land registers, which would allow house builders big and small to explore their options more easily. Along with a presumption in favour of planning applications on brownfield sites when those applications contain a major housing element, those proposals would significantly help house builders.

Moving on to the planning system, it is wrong that the Scottish Government is overturning half of council planning decisions. The SNP’s top-down approach to planning permission is wrong and misguided. We should be aiming not to take power away from those who are most affected by planning decisions but to empower them. That is why the Scottish Conservatives believe that simplifying and speeding up the planning system is of the utmost importance. That would not only support house building by making the system easier to navigate but make planning decisions easier for the public to understand. It would also remove some of the confusion and stress that communities feel when trying to understand why decisions take so long to be made and why they are made in certain ways.

We should not only build new houses but ensure that the housing that we have is more effectively managed and used. For example, there are an estimated 27,000 empty homes in Scotland, which are a wasted asset. Bringing them back into use would be a good first step in providing more housing for the people of Scotland, which includes housing for armed forces veterans and, particularly, disabled veterans.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for the removal of constrictions that central legislation places on the allocation of housing. I think that everyone in the chamber agrees that allocation policy that would be good for my constituents in Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh, Greenock and Luss, for example, might not work as well for other members’ constituents. Allocation policy should be decided with those who are most affected by it—the local communities. That is why I want such decisions to be taken locally.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Rather than send a note to each member, I will just tell James Kelly, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Ben Macpherson that, out of the kindness and good hearts of the preceding speakers, you now all have six minutes. I call Andy Wightman.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

I welcome this housing debate. I will cover three key challenges that this Parliament has the capacity to deal with: affordability, housing land supply and existing homes.

The Scottish Greens take the view that everyone should have access to affordable houses. All houses should be affordable, but they are not. Average prices in Scotland are now double what they were in 2003, and they have risen at twice the rate of inflation and outstripped average earnings by an even higher rate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Wightman, will you move your microphone a little closer to you, so that the official reporters can hear your dulcet tones? Thank you.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

As the

Financial Times wrote in January 2015:

“The politics of building more houses is as tortuous as the economics is clear. But the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. What Britain needs is a government brave enough to trumpet the virtue of falling house prices, and make it happen.”

Therefore, I am pleased that the Scottish Green Party is the first political party in Britain to have argued that average house prices in Scotland need to fall if we are serious about affordability. With average house prices at about six times average earnings, that is clearly not the case.

The second area that I will cover is housing land supply. As has been pointed out by a number of speakers, house-building targets that the previous SNP Administration set in 2007 have not been met, and that is in large measure due to a failed model of new house building that has been dominated by the speculative volume house-building industry. That stands in stark contrast to the rest of Europe, where self-procured housing is at a rate of well over 50 per cent in most countries.

In Berlin, for example, the city council helps groups of families or older people build apartment blocks to meet their housing needs. Across Germany, the inflated value of land consequent on receiving planning permission is capped at existing use value, meaning that 90 per cent or so of housing investment goes into high-quality homes that are energy efficient and last far longer than the typical design life of new-build houses in the UK. In real terms, German house prices are the same today as they were in the early 1970s, during which time Britain’s house prices have multiplied by five. That difference is a key reason why Germany is a far more productive and prosperous country.

To achieve more efficient supply of land for housing, public authorities must be allowed once again to acquire land at existing use value, as was the case prior to 1959 and as remains the case in Germany. That would also mean ending the nonsense that Government does not interfere in the private market.

In February, in its response to the commission on housing and wellbeing’s recommendation of a national target of 23,000 new houses per year, the Scottish Government argued:

“We do not set targets for overall housing supply, as this depends heavily on the activities of the development and house-building industries and is largely out-with”

Scottish Government


That followed the then housing minister, Margaret Burgess’s answer to a written question from Liam McArthur MSP, in which she said:

“In Scotland we expect the private housing market to operate wherever it can without government intervention.”—[

Written Answers

, 29 January 2016; S4W-29368.]

It is surely time to admit that the laissez faire approach to housing has failed. Indeed, on the waterfront in my Edinburgh constituency, there are acres and acres of land lying unused and derelict that should have houses built on them. Much of the land is owned in the British Virgin Islands.

That brings me to the third challenge: existing homes. All parties in the chamber are committed to taking action on warm homes. That is very welcome, but the scale of the challenge is significant. Indeed, 85 per cent of the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built, and with much of the housing stock in poor condition and the particular problems associated with communal tenement property, a major effort is required to bring existing housing up to modern standards. I was glad to hear John Mason make that point.

Part of that will involve rethinking how we regard housing, so that we see housing not as private property but as part of the public infrastructure of our cities and rural areas. Much of the tenement property in Edinburgh was built 100 or 200 years ago, and with the right care and maintenance it will last another 100 or 200 years. In other words, such properties are assets to be maintained and refurbished in the long-term public interest rather than for short-term financial gain. That is why one of the proposals in our manifesto is for a not-for-profit repair service and a new housing investment bank.

There are issues to do with not just the quality of existing housing but how it is used. A constituent of mine in Edinburgh commented in

The Guardian last week that he is the only resident in his tenement stair. The other flats are Airbnb flats, second homes or student lets. He said:

“We are heading to a place where we have little in the way of community any more”.

The issue could be resolved by changes to the planning regime to make a range of residential uses, such as student accommodation, holiday homes and retirement homes, subject to planning consent, so that housing allocation can be better governed to maintain communities and target different housing needs.

Scottish Greens are ambitious for housing. We need to transform our whole approach to housing in this country and challenge the model that we have inherited—a model that is failing and is not delivering for growing numbers of our constituents.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I welcome the chance to speak in this afternoon’s debate on housing investment, which is a significant issue for constituents in my predominantly rural region.

I want to begin by picking up on the idea of the right houses in the right places. Our rural housing strategy builds on the premise that communities should be empowered to define their immediate local requirements and longer-term aspirations. A community-led approach is vital to understanding the unique dynamics that inform access to housing in Scotland’s more rural places.

For example, in Dumfries and Galloway it tends to be the case that private landowners have a greater role in the provision of rental accommodation. Added to that, a higher proportion of holiday homes and empty properties inevitably creates additional pressure on the already limited housing supply.

That is why I want to talk about the Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust, which works with small rural communities to identify what they think are the right houses in the right places, as part of a wider drive for rural regeneration in the region. The trust works to increase provision of a broad range of affordable housing across all tenures in rural areas. In only a short time, it has developed an extremely productive working relationship with the Scottish Government and local strategic partners in housing and communities.

The trust’s approach is an exemplar of partnership working that understands local challenges but is not constrained by them. Where appropriate, the trust works with large private landowners on the application of the rural housing burden, thereby maintaining long-term affordability in private projects.

The trust is also responsible for the delivery in Dumfries and Galloway of the £25 million rural housing fund. The fund was launched by the Scottish Government in April to increase the supply of affordable housing in all tenures in rural Scotland. The fund is available for three years and provides capital support for new housing and refurbishment projects, as well as a smaller contribution towards relevant feasibility studies

. It is open to a wide range of applicants in Scotland, and we must actively encourage Scotland’s rural communities to come forward and apply for a decent share of the funding.

It is clear that community-led development has its challenges, but thanks to the engagement efforts of the Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust, housing projects are beginning to emerge that have the potential to increase the capacity of local development trusts and secure the longer-term sustainability of small communities.

At this stage, the trust is providing support to seven applications that have progressed beyond expression-of-interest stage, as well as support for the development of a number of other bids. Six of the seven live applications are from community development trusts and are benefiting from the feasibility and project development element of the rural housing fund, which facilitates community-led housing while addressing specific local demand and minimising the risk for communities. The other application relates to a private landowner.

The projects are diverse in nature and promote a range of approaches to rural housing, including the construction—in partnership with a housing association—of new-build housing; the purchase and refurbishment of long-term empty homes; the refurbishment of a former police station; the seeking of asset transfer from the local authority; and the building of new-build housing on land that has been made available through the national forest land scheme.

The trust values the flexibility of approach from the rural housing fund, which it says is particularly important in addressing small-scale localised rural housing needs, particularly when the intervention is community led. The trust also reports that it sees a close alignment between the rural housing fund and the new Scottish land fund, which, in turn, is allowing community-led housing projects to address the key barrier of availability of land.

I am delighted that the Scottish Government understands the unique challenges that rural communities face. We do not want our rural areas just to survive; we want them to thrive. That is why I welcome initiatives such as the rural housing fund that allow communities to take the driving seat on innovative housing.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, as I believe that housing is one of the most important issues that the Parliament will consider. It is not just a case of trying to ensure that we have enough homes for the citizens of our country that are wind and watertight; we need to look at the implications for some of the other issues that we as parliamentarians consider. Poor-quality housing and a lack of housing can drain people’s ability to advance themselves through education. Poor housing can also have an impact on the health of the families who live in such housing and, as a result, it can undermine health service budgets.

Sadly, in recent years there has been real growth in mental health problems, to which poor housing has been a contributory factor.

I will look at some of the issues around housing, explore how they have affected the private rented sector and touch on the need for us to have a proper, honest and open debate if we want to tackle the housing issues that face us.

John Mason warned Opposition politicians not to say that there was a crisis in housing in Scotland, so I will not alarm him or any other SNP back benchers by talking about a crisis. However, it is important to look at some of the statistics and at what they mean on the ground in Scotland. There are 150,000 people on housing waiting lists, of whom 30,000 are homeless and 10,000 are in temporary accommodation. In Glasgow, there are 24,000 people on the waiting list, of whom 4,500 are in temporary accommodation and 419 are homeless. That picture is replicated all over the country. Rutherglen and Cambuslang Housing Association has 651 people on its lists, but it can rehouse only 45 of them. There are real issues across the country.

We should compare those figures with the number of houses that have been built over the course of recent years. It is being kind to say that progress has been very slow, to say the least. In 2015, there were only 16,000 housing completions—that is 40 per cent below pre-recession levels. That level of house building is not enough to meet the challenges that we face with growing waiting lists.

The impact of that feeds into the private rented sector. Twenty-eight per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds hold a mortgage—the lowest that that rate has been for some time; it is 15 per cent lower than it was at the start of devolution. The lack of affordable housing pushes up rents. In Glasgow, the average rent for a two-bedroom flat is now £668 a month. People are being put under real pressure, and I think that we need to be open and honest about that.

The minister made a very earnest speech—as we would expect from someone new to the brief—in which he praised the Government’s record and talked about his plans. However, we need to be honest about the issues that we face, as there will be challenges ahead due to budget constraints.

The Fraser of Allander institute report that was published this morning says that there are potential cuts of £1.6 billion coming down the line for the Scottish Government between now and 2021. Local government potentially faces £1 billion of those cuts, on top of hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts in recent years. It is no surprise that, under those financial challenges, completions for councils and housing associations are down by 20 per cent, according to today’s statistics.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Starts are up, and ensuring that new-start housing continues to increase will be the most important thing in the future. I am pleased that housing associations and councils are stepping up to the plate in that regard.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The minister might delight himself by standing up and saying that, but people come to our surgeries and talk about staying in overcrowded accommodation or in houses that are not fit to live in because of dampness. There are real issues that Mr Stewart needs to acknowledge as a Government minister, and he needs to be honest about the finances.

The scale of the financial challenge means that, if the SNP Government is serious about achieving the targets that it has set out, it needs to look at progressive taxation. That was an issue in the election, during which we put forward an honest programme and said that we needed to expand the public purse in order to deliver public services and not have an anti-austerity agenda. It is not enough simply to complain about what the Tories in Westminster are wrongly allocating to Scotland; the Government needs to look at the powers that it has and what it is going to do with them.

We face a massive crisis and it is time that we had an open and honest debate not only about how we solve housing issues, but about how we fund housing in future.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I welcome the cross-party consensus that the motion seeks to foster. In particular, I thank the minister and the Scottish Government for meeting Liberal Democrat calls for an island housing fund.

The challenge that is before members is great. Put simply, if we are to tackle our national housing crisis, we need to work together towards a comprehensive national homelessness strategy. The reform of housing law to give people the right to a settled home was a landmark achievement in tackling the crisis. Progress has been made, but it is incumbent on us to build on that achievement and to ensure that we see real change for those who need it. Over the next five years, we must work together and put party differences aside.

I welcome the Government’s motion, but I encourage it to go even further: building 10,000 houses a year will go a long way towards addressing need but, as Pauline McNeill said, that must not be the limit of our ambition. Every month that goes by without action makes the ambition harder to achieve.

There are 150,000 households on council house waiting lists; despite their having gold priority, people in my constituency are missing out time and again as houses become available. According to Shelter Scotland’s latest report, more than 5,000 children are in temporary accommodation—up 13 per cent from last year—which sets us back still further in our efforts to meet our obligations under article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government, backed by parties across the chamber, we are slipping backwards in that crucial agenda.

Scotland is facing a perfect storm of unaddressed need and rising demand. The level of urgency is profound, so I welcome the commitment to building 50,000 homes, but that must be the baseline from which we seek to rise. The approach will work for those in need only if we meet the vision of those who are campaigning across the housing sector to ensure that it benefits the people who are at the sharp end in our society. We must do all that we can to make sure that those who are in need of a home get one. The Parliament will do them a disservice if we simply descend into a Dutch auction about numbers.

It is absolutely right that we address the rurality problems that Kate Forbes described, so I thank the minister again for the island housing fund, which will help island communities, given the acute needs that are caused by adverse weather, transport problems and building problems in those areas.

In my remarks today, I particularly want to address the need for a whole-systems approach. We have heard a lot about the problems that walk hand in hand with housing need, including fuel poverty, digital exclusion and other areas of social inequality in our society. We need a whole-systems solution, and I welcome the approach to that in the Government’s motion.

Breaking that down into granular detail in my constituency, I note that we need to talk about building communities—not just houses. I will give some examples. The garden city proposal for Gyle falls into the footprint of Ladywell medical practice and will, if it comes on stream, deliver a further 4,000 patients to a doctors’ surgery that is already on its knees. Other communities including South Queensferry and Kirkliston are set to nearly double in size due to housing proliferation, yet despite paying Edinburgh council tax, they are not served by affordable direct public transport links into the city that are on a par with those that other suburban communities have. It is small wonder, then, that our fairer fares campaign has already garnered nearly 2,000 signatures. Finally, I point out that the proposals for development at Cammo would see homes built on much-loved green belt, which will cause at a stroke further gridlock at Barnton, which is the main junction on one of the most congested stretches of arterial route outside the M25.

Do not get me wrong. Liberal Democrats are not opposed in any way to housing development, but it must be intelligent development. Building huge dormitory estates on the outskirts of cities without giving a thought to the impact on local services, transport and infrastructure will only give rise to the manifestation of yet further inequalities in our society. That is why, this week, I have written to the cabinet secretary and ministers asking whether the Government will consider legislation to amend the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 in order to compel developers—through section 75 orders on planning gain—to construct primary healthcare facilities in developments of a certain size, and to factor in pressure on arterial routes.

We need to be much smarter in our housing, which is at the centre of solving the crisis of inequality that we see right across Scotland. We need to see housing as an enabler that gives people—wherever they are—better quality of life. It is only by having good-quality housing in the right places with local services, transport links and broadband connectivity that meet people’s needs that we can ensure that we deliver the transformative change that is needed across the country. I thank the Government for bringing this debate to the chamber.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Cole-Hamilton. Ben Macpherson will be the last speaker in the open debate. I remind members that all those who took part in the debate must be in the chamber for the closing speeches, which will follow.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

I, too, warmly welcome this debate on housing, which constituents consistently raise with me in surgeries and is a top priority in my constituency.

The journey towards ensuring that everyone in Scotland has access to a warm, well-designed, good-quality and affordable home is, of course, an on-going process and is, as has been articulated in the chamber today, a shared aspiration for us all. Today marks another positive step on that journey, with ambitious and achievable proposals from the Minister for Local Government and Housing and a firm commitment from the Scottish Government to build at least 50,000 affordable homes during the current session of Parliament, including 35,000 affordable homes for social rent. That investment will provide accommodation for families, individuals and people who are in need, and it will deliver invaluable economic stimulus in these challenging financial circumstances.

As Alex Cole-Hamilton articulated, the need to build more homes is particularly pressing here in Edinburgh, where the population is growing so strongly. I have the privilege of representing Leith, which is the densest urban area of Scotland. It is vibrant, diverse and bustling, and it is undergoing a process of renewal, but it will never lose its character.

I also have the honour of representing north Edinburgh, which is also a very strong community that is in the process of regeneration, and is facing challenges but undergoing positive change. My constituency is already meaningfully benefiting from Scottish Government investment in affordable housing. In collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council and various housing associations and developers, more affordable homes are being delivered in north Edinburgh and throughout Leith. For example, it was announced today that 236 new affordable homes will be built at the Shrubhill site, which I warmly welcome. I hope that the minister enjoyed his visit to that site in Leith this morning.

As well as having a positive benefit in itself, public sector housing investment is having a multiplier effect; it is helping to boost employment, providing opportunities to small businesses and, in my constituency, helping vibrant creative industries to grow and develop. Public sector investment is also attracting new private interest in investment. For example, in recent weeks and months, I have been in discussions with social entrepreneurs and charities about proposals for innovative housing and regeneration projects in Leith and across the north of Edinburgh, including at the waterfront, which Andy Wightman rightly highlighted earlier. I look forward to supporting those initiatives where I can, in the coming months.

What is happening in my constituency is demonstrative of the fact that the Scottish Government’s commitment to house building is having a positive economic effect as well as a meaningful social impact, and is encouraging confidence and creativity as well as building homes for the public good. That is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to invest £3 billion in housing throughout this parliamentary session. That capital investment will not only provide more places to live for our fellow citizens, but will create 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs and generate £1.8 billion of economic activity a year—positive demand-led economic growth with multidimensional social benefits in challenging economic times. Together with measures to support the industry and help people into home ownership, Scottish Government capital investment in housing is having, and will continue to have, a transformative effect despite Brexit, the challenges of austerity and significant cuts to Scotland’s capital budget.

Recently, I met the Rock Trust, which is a remarkable organisation that is doing inspiring work to support young men and women in our communities who have, usually through no fault of their own, become homeless. They are young men and women who have grown up in austerity and have often been subjected to the negative consequences of welfare reform, and are part of a generation for whom the cost of housing is a major problem. We must always do more for vulnerable people in our society, and the measures that have been proposed by the Scottish Government today to build 35,000 homes for social rent will make a difference for younger citizens, families and individuals.

Through investment and legislative changes, whether in planning or land reform, private sector rents or measures to address fuel poverty, the Scottish Government’s programme for housing is reassuringly realistic and inspiringly ambitious. It will deliver new homes, investment in current housing stock, improved urban environments and helpful economic stimulus. It will help to create sustainable growth, promote social justice, strengthen communities and tackle inequality. For those reasons and others, I commend the minister’s bold agenda and look forward to working with the Scottish Government, other MSPs, the City of Edinburgh Council, housing associations and others to help to deliver more affordable housing for the people I represent in Edinburgh Northern and Leith.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to winding-up speeches. I call Alex Rowley to wind up for Labour.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

The debate has been positive. I believe that there is consensus in the Parliament that we need to take action to address the housing crisis in Scotland. Without getting into who is to blame for what, the statistics speak for themselves and show that we have a housing crisis in Scotland that needs to be tackled.

I welcome the tone of the minister’s opening speech. Labour is absolutely committed to working with the Government in the Parliament to deliver 50,000 affordable homes, with 35,000 of them for social rent, but I hope that we can go further.

I know from experience in Fife Council that delivering that level of housing is not without its challenges. That is why Labour has said that we need a national housing strategy—a plan—for Scotland. Sitting alongside that, councils need to be empowered to establish local housing partnerships that can deliver.

Back in 2011-12, when I was the leader of the Labour group in Fife, we proposed in our manifesto to build 2,700 houses for rent in Fife over a five-year period. I am happy to say that Fife Council is on target and will deliver those 2,700 houses by April next year. That experience led me to write a paper about the housing crisis and why we must build more public sector houses in Scotland. The paper sets out that experience and the facts on why we need to drive forward.

I highlight in the paper that, when I was in Paisley last year, I met a family who had moved from a cold, damp house into a new housing association house. The family explained to me that the daughter had suffered continually from asthma attacks and had very often been taken to hospital, but since the family had moved into their new house, with its fuel efficiency and everything else, the little girl had not had to go back to the hospital once. James Kelly’s point about housing being among the most important issues that we will debate in the Parliament because of its impact on all other social policies that we will have responsibility for is absolutely correct.

The family also told me about their monthly income. In their old damp, cold house, they paid 25 per cent of that monthly income on heating and fuel. When they moved into the new house, that figure shifted to less than 5 per cent of their total household income. If we are serious about tackling inequality and poverty, we absolutely have to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.

We should not forget homelessness. I started to become concerned this year when I read different things from charities about the number of rough sleepers there are. When I tried to find the statistics, I found it very difficult to find out how many rough sleepers there actually are. I welcome the launch of Shelter Scotland’s homelessness: far from fixed campaign, which Richard Leonard and Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned, because homelessness is far from fixed. I hope that we recognise across the chamber that homelessness is far from fixed and that more must be done to eradicate the unacceptable situation in which far too many people in Scotland still, in 2016, find themselves. We need to give a commitment to tackle that.

Alex Johnstone for the Conservatives gave a critique of the SNP’s record to date and talked about looking at other ways to secure funding. I draw attention to Unison Scotland’s proposals, which I hope the minister has read, looking at the pension funds. We can certainly start to look at more investment through the pension funds.

Establishing the local partnerships is about getting it right. Homes for Scotland quite rightly says that we need to look at not only homes for rent, but homes to buy. We need to encourage that process. I am sure that, in the coming months, we will see a lot more about the planning processes in Scotland.

I will talk about the capacity to deliver the 50,000 affordable houses. Fife had the capacity to do what it did because there was such a dip in the private market. If we got private housing moving tomorrow and we started to build the 50,000 houses in the private sector that Alex Johnstone talked about, we would have a major problem with capacity because we have a skills gap in the building trade in Scotland. By setting out a clear and strategic plan through a national house-building programme for Scotland, we can start to plan. We can work with all our partners, such as the colleges, the builders, and the private sector. If we do that we can—as the experience in Fife showed—create apprenticeships and local jobs and support local companies. It is about that type of partnership. Emma Harper talked about the need to involve more local housing associations and gave examples from her area. Creating a local housing partnership in every area is not about creating bureaucracy—that is already there. It is about bringing together the housing associations with the local authorities and getting people like planners and those who own the land sitting around the same table and starting to move the agenda forward.

I give credit to Fife, which has built 2,700 houses in the past five years. Let us look at that example and go forward, working together to tackle the housing crisis in Scotland.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

As we have heard from my colleagues in the chamber, the Scottish Conservatives believe that it is necessary to build 100,000 new homes across all housing sectors during the current parliamentary session.

It is also essential that the Government ensures that nobody lives in a hard-to-heat home.

Such a policy would be assisted by ensuring that Scotland invests in clean, secure and affordable energy.

Having the ability to call a place home is one of the most instinctive human aspirations that I can think of. The shortage of housing across all sectors of the market is concerning for all, but not least for young people and growing families.

I have lived everywhere. I have been a tenant of Glasgow City Council, a homeowner and have rented privately. My concern for the next generation is about the point at which my 22-year-old son will be able to get on to the housing ladder in any capacity.

Although I recognise the Scottish Government’s attempts to combat Scotland’s housing shortage, with its commitment to 50,000 affordable homes during the next parliamentary session—35,000 of which will be social rented homes—I will repeat the sentiments of my colleague Graham Simpson that we need to see real action from the Scottish Government. Following its failure to meet its original 2011 manifesto target of building more than 6,000 new social rented houses a year, it would be fair to say that we can be slightly cynical about the Scottish Government’s ability to fulfil its own policy promises, as in 2015-16, for example, that figure had dropped to less than 3,500 in the year.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Will the member welcome the abolition of the right to buy, which has been a real boost?

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

The SNP promised to build 30,000 social rented homes. We have heard here today that it cleared that target by 10 per cent but, when it came into power, it lowered the target to 20,000 new homes and created 10 per cent more than that. We are aware that the Scottish Government likes to move the goalposts to meet targets.

I will turn my attention now to the region that I represent, which is Glasgow, for those who did not know.

Glasgow City Council’s draft housing strategy for the next five years reveals that between 2001 and 2011, the owner-occupied sector in the city reduced by 1.2 per cent and the social rented sector saw a huge 10.6 per cent reduction.

In an area such as Glasgow, where social rents make up a larger percentage of housing stock—an estimated 36 per cent of its 300,000 residential properties—the impact is much greater. That pressure can be felt nowhere more than in Govanhill, where I recently met members of the community campaign group to discuss the issues that are affecting an area that has unfortunately become infamous in Glasgow.

After meeting a number of residents during a walkabout, I found that their main concerns were the appalling living conditions caused by dilapidated properties, fly-tipping in the back courts, vermin and crime. Above all, however, and no doubt due to a lack of affordable social housing options, rogue landlords charging ludicrous rents came top of the list for ingraining poverty in the area.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I will just finish this point.

That is why I was very pleased to see the First Minister onsite at the Govanhill affordable housing scheme last week and that is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to build 50,000 extra affordable homes. However, I feel that there is much more to be done.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I thank Ms Wells for taking the intervention.

The Government has invested a significant sum of money in taking over some of the properties in Govanhill to make sure that folk are living in reasonable conditions. Does Ms Wells agree with me that that investment is welcome, that there is more to be done, but that in co-operation with Glasgow City Council and Govanhill Housing Association, we have made major efforts in that regard?

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I have been in Govanhill and I know that the Government is putting money into Govanhill—I know that there was a £9.3 million initiative in Govanhill on an enhanced area of four blocks of houses. However, it is a bigger problem than that. I welcome the fact that we are putting in further investment but I still think that we need to be doing more in Govanhill and areas like it throughout Glasgow. I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is putting that effort into the area.

To follow on from what Alex Cole-Hamilton said, when we are building houses, we need to look at the community that we are building them in and we need to put community at the heart of housing, whether it is social housing or private housing. I was at one of the housing associations with the minister during recess and we visited the Camlachie Housing Development, which I think we both agreed was a great development, with the community very much at the heart of it. I would like to see more of that approach.

I also want to stress the importance of setting numerical targets for increasing housing stock across all tenures by working with the private sector. It is estimated that around 1,500 private houses used to be built in Glasgow every year—a level of building that we have not seen since the 2008-09 recession. Worryingly for Scotland as a whole, statistics reveal that private house building is down by 44 per cent since the SNP came into power in 2007.

As has been proposed by the Scottish Conservatives today, we need to look beyond the 50,000 affordable homes and create an extra 50,000 homes in the private sector over the next five years. We need to be creative in how we do that and we have proposed a number of policies that would assist with that.

It could be done, for example, by providing grants to private landlords to build new properties in exchange for them letting out the properties at affordable rents for a given time period and making use of empty properties by bringing them back into use. In Glasgow alone, it was estimated that, as of March 2016, nearly 1,900 properties had been lying vacant for more than six months. We have already heard that Glasgow has a waiting list of 24,000 and that will only increase.

Further to that, as Maurice Corry pointed out, we would also like to encourage local authorities to compile publicly accessible brownfield land registers, allowing house builders, small and large, to explore their options more easily.

The final point that I would like to make is the need for the Scottish Government to prioritise ensuring that no one in Scotland lives in a hard-to-heat home. Shockingly, nearly a third of households in Scotland live in fuel poverty. Although the Scottish Government has proposed a £0.5 billion investment over the next four years, the Scottish Conservatives have recognised the importance of the issue by proposing the spending of £1 billion over the next five years.

As Alex Johnstone mentioned, energy efficiency could be incentivised through LBTT discounts and efforts should be made to create a dynamic energy mix policy so that fuel poverty can be eradicated in Scotland or, at the very least, start to decline.

In short, the Scottish Conservatives want to see an emphasis on increased housing stock across all tenures as well as a concerted effort to eradicate fuel poverty.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Any debate on housing is always much more than a debate about bricks and mortar, important though they are. A breadth and depth of issues need to be addressed and we all need to understand them. In particular, we need to understand where to go further and faster. Members have touched on issues to do with infrastructure, construction skills, finance, access to land and of course planning. Many speakers from across the chamber rightly spoke about the links between housing and social justice, our economy, our environment, fuel poverty, the attainment gap and health inequalities. Many members also welcomed the rural housing fund and of course Mr Stewart’s announcement today that there will also be an islands housing fund, which will sit alongside that and which recognises the unique needs of our island communities.

I make it clear to Alex Johnstone that our target is at least 50,000 affordable homes, 35,000 of which will be for social rent. I was somewhat puzzled by his contribution and that of other Tories, as they made no specific commitment to social rented housing. The Tories have a bit of a cheek to complain about reducing budget subsidies when there was a 26 per cent reduction to our capital budget. Of course, the Tory Government also withdrew the green deal, which meant a loss of consequential funding that could have been used to tackle fuel poverty.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I had a feeling that Mr Johnstone would take the bait.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Along with everyone else in the chamber, I realise that there was a squeeze in finances during the financial crisis, but the SNP Government, in a previous incarnation, chose to target the housing budget for a 40 per cent cut in a single year. It reined back from that, because it realised how deep the cut was, but it was this Government’s decision.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It was also this Government’s decision, in the previous session of Parliament, to invest £1.7 billion, which supported 30,000 affordable homes. Looking forward, it is also this Government’s decision to invest £3 billion to ensure that we achieve 50,000 affordable homes. It is also this Government that chooses to invest £35 million a year to mitigate policies such as the bedroom tax—we are always mitigating welfare reform. Of course, we cannot have a debate about housing and a whole-systems approach to tackling the need for more housing without acknowledging the detrimental impact of Westminster’s austerity and welfare reform, which most certainly has made a contribution to the rising level of evictions, given that the biggest reason for that rising level is that people are unable to pay their rent.

On a more conciliatory note, Pauline McNeill acknowledged that the target of 50,000 affordable homes is ambitious and that it would be quite an achievement if it were to be met. Of course, Richard Leonard encouraged us all to be more ambitious. Pauline McNeill’s point that we need to focus on the how as well as the numbers certainly struck a chord with me, as it is an important point. It is important that we recognise all of the underlying issues, as well as recognising—as do the Tories and others—that we indeed had a financial crash and the worst recession since the depression. Nonetheless, the level of modern apprenticeships in construction is back to pre-recession levels, which should be welcomed.

I gently point out to Richard Leonard, who gave us an interesting historical perspective on housing and Parliament’s role in it, that it was the SNP Government that had the courage to take through the legislation to abolish the right to buy, thereby safeguarding 15,500 homes over the next decade for future generations.

A number of really good points were made about the role of local authorities. The City of Edinburgh Council, North Lanarkshire Council and Fife Council, to name but a few, should be commended for the progress that they are making and for their ambitious targets at local level for affordable housing. The important point of learning from Fife Council in particular is how it took an all-council approach and galvanised efforts across the public sector to reach out and set ambitious targets. I am delighted to hear that it is making good progress on that. There is much for other councils to learn from councils that have been trailblazers in the matter.

It is not surprising that we have had much discussion about planning. It is the Government’s aim to simplify and strengthen our planning system. Over the summer recess, Mr Stewart announced that there would be 10 immediate points of action following from the review of planning. We will publish a white paper before the end of the year and that will be an important point for the Parliament to focus on prior to the introduction of the planning bill. As evidence of imminent action, there will also be pilots of simplified planning zones.

I stress that the Government wants to support the provision of more housing across all tenures. That is why we have invested heavily in the help-to-buy scheme, which has supported 22,000 people—three quarters of whom are young people between the ages of 18 and 34—to purchase a home of their own.

I do not accept Andy Wightman’s description of our approach as simply acceptant of the laissez-faire private sector. We are trying sensibly and pragmatically to focus on the levers that we have to support social housing in particular. However, I agree with his point that we have to regard housing in all its forms and tenures as part of a public infrastructure that contributes to the public good.

Points have been made about homelessness and fuel poverty. I reassure members that homelessness is far from being forgotten. Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned the landmark legislation that we pulled together in the Parliament, but what happens on the ground is crucial. Yes, homelessness applications have reduced, as have the number of households that are assessed as homeless, but I will not demur from the fact that we have some road to travel before we eliminate and eradicate homelessness in Scotland.

Although the number of children in temporary accommodation has reduced, I do not want any child in Scotland to be in temporary accommodation. Of course, we have to acknowledge that there will be women and children who seek refuge. There will also be women, children, families and men who are faced with emergencies and have no alternative other than to access temporary accommodation. However, we must ensure that that temporary accommodation is for the shortest time possible and is of a suitable quality.

Fuel poverty is at 35 per cent in Scotland. If it were not for rocketing fuel costs, it would be at about 9 per cent. I am glad that there is cross-party consensus for a warm homes bill. It is important that we listen to the findings of the strategic fuel poverty group and the rural fuel poverty group prior to introducing such a bill later in the parliamentary session.

Alex Rowley and James Kelly touched on some of the annual housing statistics that were published today. There is much to be welcomed in those statistics. They present a strong platform on which to build to make further progress but they identify some challenges on new housing supply and new-build completions that will certainly have to focus our minds and which underline why we have to increase our endeavours and will have to monitor progress carefully across all tenures. However, it is fair to say that housing starts are up by 4 per cent. That is higher than at any time since the financial crash. Affordable housing supply has increased by 26 per cent over the year.

This Government has an excellent record in delivering affordable housing. In the previous session of Parliament, we exceeded our target of building 30,000 affordable homes by 10 per cent. That is because, when we reached our target, we most certainly did not stop there. The figures speak for themselves. From 2007 to March 2016, we delivered 60,704 houses. That compares well with the 38,015 that were delivered by our predecessors between 2000-01 and 2006-7. Of course, our predecessors had the privilege of rising budgets. We have managed to deliver more affordable housing than them—on average, the figure is up by 24 per cent a year—at a time when our capital budgets are being slashed, when we are in a period of financial austerity and crisis and when we await the outcome of Brexit.

Since 2007, we have built more homes per head of the population than is the case in England and Wales. Comparisons with our nearest friends and neighbours might not be the be all and end all, and they should not be the limit of our ambition, but they are nonetheless interesting and important, because that higher per capita rate of housebuilding in Scotland has enabled 44,600 more homes to be built than would have been built at the lower per capita rate that we see in England and Wales. That number of homes—as would have been pointed out by George Adam, had he spoken in the debate—is equivalent to a new town the size of Paisley.

We built 33,000 affordable homes in the previous parliamentary session, and we will build on that number with £1.7 billion of investment, which will be ramped up to £3 billion, despite the uncertainty of Westminster austerity and Brexit. We are absolutely determined to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes. That is an ambitious target, an affordable target and a target that I believe is achievable.